September | October 2017

Stakeholder Corner: OJJDP-Sponsored Program Helps To Strengthen Bonds Between Young Fathers and Their Children

By Dana Watson


Photo of Darius, a Strengthening Fathers program participant, with his daughter and The Up Center's service dog.Darius, a Strengthening Fathers program participant, attends a postservices case management appointment for followup care. He was accompanied by his daughter, who was excited to see the center's service dog, Agent.


Photo courtesy of The Up Center.

A haven in the Hampton Roads community for more than 100 years, The Up Center of Norfolk, VA, works—through a variety of programs—to strengthen families, protect children, empower families in crisis, and maximize independence for people with disabilities.

The center is a recipient of OJJDP’s fiscal year 2016 Second Chance Act Strengthening Relationships Between Young Fathers, Young Mothers, and Their Children grant. The initiative supports efforts to improve outcomes for young parents returning from detention, out-of-home placement, or incarceration. It also aims to reduce recidivism and promote public safety.

With the help of the OJJDP grant, The Up Center is now able to provide prerelease and postrelease services to young fathers, helping to guide them and change their way of thinking as they reenter society. Through our Strengthening Fathers program, we provide comprehensive, transitional services to young fathers ages 16 to 24 who have been selected for a prerelease program. The goal of the program is to facilitate reentry by promoting family engagement and healthy relationships.


Participants receive essential services and assistance with case management, child support and child custody issues, parenting classes, job development skills, and mentoring. Services are offered in both group settings and one-on-one sessions. The young men also benefit from referrals to community resources, family reunification assistance, GED assistance and preparation services, transportation assistance, and other support services.


Mentors, also known as life coaches, attend an orientation and are trained to work in the program. There are currently eight mentors in the program who are serving nine participants. Mentors are required to maintain weekly contact with their mentees for 12 weeks, with a continuing commitment to the mentee for 1 year.


Darius D. is pleased with the progress he's made since joining the reentry program. “The Strengthening Fathers program gave me more motivation to do better. I knew that I could be a good father, but the program gave me parenting skills to be a better father,” he said. “The program also helps me show others I am worthy of being given a second chance.”


Similar to most programs, retention can be challenging. The Strengthening Fathers program is currently seeking more participants and more life coaches. By working together to reduce recidivism and promote increased family engagement, we will help end the epidemic of the fatherless child.



Learn more about The Up Center.


Visit the OJJDP website to access the Office’s reentry resources and to read about the Initiative to Develop Juvenile Reentry Measurement Standards.

The Office’s Model Programs Guide provides additional information about evidence-based juvenile justice and youth prevention, intervention, and reentry programs.






Dana Watson is a program manager at The Up Center. Points of view or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.